The news, although it really isn’t news, is that the NFL is reviewing for potential discipline the hit applied by Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The news that will be news is what the NFL does about it.
Setting aside questions of “clean” and “dirty,” the reality is this: Clowney lowered his helmet and initiated contact against an opponent with it. That’s a clear violation of the rule that the NFL passed in 2018, applied aggressively in the 2018 preseason, ignored for the most part in the 2018 regular season and postseason, and dusted off for the 2019 season.
The move should have drawn a flag. Whether it provokes a fine may depend on whether the league is willing to implicitly admit that the flag should have been thrown.
After the game, referee Shawn Smith explained that no penalty was called because Wentz “was a runner, and he did not give himself up.” Smith added that the crew “saw incidental helmet contact, and in our judgment, we didn’t rule that to be a foul.”
It wasn’t incidental. It felt like a reaction to the fact that quarterbacks who run often don’t suffer the same fate as running backs, given that defensive players are now programmed to pull up when the opportunity to blast a quarterback arises. Smart coaches (like Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, for example) surely are telling their players that when a quarterback runs he’s fair game for a big hit. And some defenders, like Clowney, may be overcompensating for the undercompensation by other defensive players.
Really, would Clowney have hit a running back that way, putting his head down and coming in hot? It felt like, as Simms acknowledged earlier this week on PFT Live, an effort to make Wentz pay for the decision to run.
Again, “clean” or “dirty” doesn’t matter. (That said, if someone like Vontaze Burfict had done it, the prevailing cry would have been, “Filthy!”) What matters is that the move violated the rules, it should have been flagged, and it should be fined.